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Canadians divided on Ottawa’s plan to admit more immigrants: poll

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OTTAWA — A new poll suggests the vast majority of Canadians are worried about how the federal Liberal government’s plan to dramatically increase immigration levels over the next few years will affect housing and government services.

The poll, conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies, also found many respondents hesitant about the use of the notwithstanding clause, which lets legislatures override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years.

Based on an online survey of 1,537 Canadians polled between Nov. 11 and 13, the results come about two weeks after Ottawa unveiled plans to admit 500,000 immigrants per year starting in 2025 to address a critical labour shortage across the country.

The government and industry have described the new targets, which represent a significant increase over the 405,000 immigrants admitted last year, as critical for filling about a million job vacancies across the country and to offset Canada’s aging workforce.

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Yet 75 per cent of poll respondents agreed that they were very or somewhat concerned that the plan would result in excessive demand for housing as well as health and social services.

That is despite Immigration Minister Sean Fraser having suggested that the new workers could actually enable the construction of more homes by addressing a shortage of tradespeople, along with an increase in federal support and settlement services.

Leger executive vice president Christian Bourque suggested that the poll results reflect the pressures many Canadians are feeling because of a lack of affordable housing and inflation rates driving up prices.

“There’s a heightened sense of concern over stretching our tax dollar and stretching our dollar,” he said.

“In good, positive economic times before the pandemic hit, these numbers might have been different. But now I think there’s a growing concern of how far and how much we can afford.”

The government might need to do a better job explaining the benefits of immigration to average Canadians, Bourque suggested.

Opinions were more divided over the number of immigrants the government plans to admit, with 49 per cent saying it was too many versus 31 per cent who felt it was the right number. Five per cent said it was not enough, while the rest didn’t know.

While opinions were largely the same across different parts of the country, respondents who identified as Conservative, Bloc Quebecois and People’s Party of Canada supporters were more likely to say the target was too high.

“I was not surprised to see a left-right, cleavage on this issue, it’s the same in the United States and the same in Europe,” Bourque said. “Slowly but surely, the issue of immigration levels is becoming political.”

The poll, whose results cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples, also asked Canadians about their views on the notwithstanding clause.

The question followed the Ontario government’s decision to include the notwithstanding clause in legislation that imposed a new contract on 55,000 education workers. The province later rescinded the law, which had effectively banned workers from striking.

It found that 48 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that it was a bad idea for Ottawa or the provinces to shield some of their laws from the Charter, while 19 per cent said it was a good idea. The remaining 33 per cent did not know.

While Quebec has a long history of debate over the notwithstanding clause, and recent events in Ontario have awoken some people to it as well, Bourque said that many Canadians remain unaware of its existence.

“It basically says this is not really a hot button, politically,” he said. “Even with the recent events in Ontario, they don’t really seem to care. Or not that they don’t care, but it’s something that’s a bit beyond what their primary concerns are in national politics.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

 

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

The Northwest Territories government released its new budget Wednesday, the last before the territorial election set for the fall.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the plan aims to maintain the stability of the territory’s economy during times of “volatility and uncertainty” without reducing services and programs.

“I am confident that we are leaving the next assembly with a fiscally sustainable foundation on which to build,” she said.

The proposed $2.2-billion budget forecasts the territory will have an operating surplus of nearly $178 million. It projects revenue to increase by 2.9 per cent, largely due to an increase in federal transfers, while spending will increase by $187 million or 7.3 per cent compared to the previous budget.

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Wawzonek said initiatives to address the rising cost of living in the North include increasing student financial assistance, improved income assistance for seniors and people with disabilities, and support for non-government organizations.

“Students, seniors, the non-profit sector, these are areas where we can have a real impact and hopefully help mitigate the impacts of inflation,” she said.

Increased spending in the budget is to include $82 million for mandate priorities and enhancements to existing programs, as well as $62 million to cover the costs of flooding in 2022. Thousands of residents in Hay River and the nearby K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve were ordered to evacuate their homes due to the worst flooding on record in May.

Other budget highlights include $10.9 million for the transition from the pandemic to endemic stage of COVID-19, $10.1 million to help recruit and retain front-line health-care workers, $10.3 million for the territory’s $10-a-day child-care agreement with the federal government, $8.3 million to help offset the effects of the increased carbon tax, and $4 million for core Northwest Territories Housing Corporation programs.

The budget also proposes $833,000 for community governments and $89,000 for the Deline Goti’ne Government to reach the territory’s goal of reducing its municipal funding gap by $5 million between 2019 and 2023.

The N.W.T. government is not proposing any new taxes, but property taxes are expected to increase due to inflation. The territory also plans to change its carbon tax system to align with new federal requirements.

The federal government announced in August 2021 it would increase the carbon price by $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, starting at $65 a tonne beginning in April and rising to $170 a tonne by 2030. It is also prohibiting rebates that directly offset the carbon tax. In response, the N.W.T. plans to adjust its carbon tax rates, replace its heating fuel rebate by increasing its cost of living offset, and replace a carbon tax rebate for large emitters with a rebate tied to a facility-specific baseline.

Some legislature members have expressed concern with the plan as heating costs are high in the North, especially in the Arctic, and many communities are reliant on diesel.

Wawzonek said if the proposed changes aren’t passed by the legislature, the federal government will determine how to return revenue to the N.W.T.

The territory projects borrowing will increase by 4.5 per cent, bringing its total debt to about $1.5 billion, which it said is well below the federally imposed limit of $1.8 billion.

When the previous budget was tabled a year ago, the territory expected its total debt to increase to more than $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year. In October, however, the territory revised its capital estimates or the amount of money it expected to spend on infrastructure, to better reflect the territory’s capacity to complete projects, reducing spending from more than $500 million to a cap of $260 million.

The territory’s 2022-2023 $2.1-billion budget saw a 2.3 per cent increase in spending compared to 2021-2022.

Wawzonek touted that budget as a sustainable plan, promising to not cut programming or add new taxes while limiting new spending.

While the budget was passed in April 2022, several legislature members opposed the plan, criticizing limited spending on communities outside of Yellowknife.

Wawzonek said at a news conference Wednesday that she suspects there may be similar criticisms of the new budget.

She said, however, that she believes the budget can respond to those concerns, adding she has had discussions with legislature members about what they wanted to see in it.

“I think we as a collective 19 are getting a little better at doing that,” she said.

“I actually think this is maybe going to be the best year for the consensus-style approach to passing a budget.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Driver charged with first-degree murder in Quebec daycare bus attack that killed two

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Quebec daycare bus attack

The driver of a bus that crashed into a suburban Montreal daycare this morning, killing two children, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video late this afternoon from a hospital room and will remain detained

Court documents show he faces a total of nine charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.

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At around 8:30 a.m., a Société de transport de Laval bus crashed into the daycare building, which sits at the end of a driveway a significant distance from the nearest bus route.

Witnesses who rushed to the scene said they had to subdue the driver, who seemed to be delirious and removed his clothing after getting off the bus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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